When it comes to eco-landscaping, there’s one couple in Buffalo that really “gets it”. Steve Olson and his wife Megan are the founders of Grazing Buffalo Eco-Landscape Design and Restoration – a business that is dedicated to creating wonderful, sustainable landscaped properties in WNY. I recently sat down with Steve, to discuss the company’s role in breathing life back into yards throughout the city
Talking to Olson is a breath of fresh air. he and Megan are on a mission to help homeowners and businesses to rethink the landscapes where they live and work.
“The whole foundation of our company is based on the belief that the future of conservation will be more focused on ‘re-wilding’ our urban areas,” said Olson. “It’s something that most citizens can do to directly help to create a healthier planet, by creating healthy neighborhoods.”
So, what exactly is a healthy neighborhood? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not a street lined with lifeless green lawns. Yes, lawns are out these days, unless the lawns are planted with hardy short grasses with longer root systems (native to the midwest) that help to retain water. Even then, it’s important to think about more diverse plantings that serve a variety of purposes. “People that have perfect lawns don’t really enjoy them unless they have kids – then the lawns are good for playing sports,” said Olson. “Other than that, they need to be maintained – mowed, watered, etc. There are much better eco-friendly lawn alternatives.”
Before he co-founded Grazing Buffalo back in 2o15, Olson was a “regular landscaper”, doing all of the things that he would never consider doing these days. “It broke me,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to start this business, to do what I want. It’s our job to get people to rethink their green spaces. I tell people to shrink their lawns as much as they can – it can be nice to have a lawn pathway, but otherwise lawns are pretty useless (and dead, for the most part).”
Lawns don’t sustain any sort of life. They don’t attract pollinators. They need lots of water. They need to be mowed. And they need fertilizer, because most people that have lawns rake leaves in the fall. The leaves should be left to break down and become fertilizer for plants and trees. According to Olson, there’s no such thing as good fertilizer (other than the leaves). For all of these reasons, and more, Olson is trying to get people to turn to garden biodiversity. “I like to layer different plants,” said Olson. “There are seasonal layers, ground covers, structural (trees, taller shrubs), and then there are landscaping plugs – little tiny baby plants. The way that I design a landscape is very efficient. After a couple of years, the homeowner will not have to mulch, fertilize, or water, because we like to use drought resistant plants that are very tough. Megan’s background is in watershed management and handles a lot of the work that deals with rainwater runoff. ”
Lawns are the biggest “crop” in America. They are also very environmentally unfriendly. “Non-native turf grass does nothing for the ecology of the planet,” noted Olson. “People put down lawns because they think that they are low-maintenance. They’re not. I love to plant sedges and ferns (and rushes), which are more attractive, indigenous to the area, and low maintenance. You can still have edibles, and flowering plants – those are great too. I make sure that there are plenty of pollinators, which people get excited about these days because they are aware of the decline of the honeybees and the monarchs. But not many people are aware that the mason bees (non stinging) are also in trouble because of loss of habitat. The mason bee is an excellent pollinator, and it’s native to this area. It doesn’t produce honey, so people don’t really think about them. The honeybee is a livestock, and an industry, which is great… who doesn’t love honey? But we need to be as concerned about our native bees that have the ability to pollinate 100 times more than a honeybee.”
The landscapes around our houses and businesses should be places of biodiversity. The problem is, we tend to do the same things that we have been accustomed to doing for generations. We’ve been mowing lawns for far too long. It’s time to make a change, for the health of our environment, and for our own health and wellness. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that we had lost touch with our natural food sources. Then the farm to table movement was born. Now, we need to see similar actions taken to transition our urban lands into productive habitats.
From hardy hellstrip plantings to planting the proper trees, the Olsons really knows their stuff. “We just want people to think differently about what their green spaces can be,” stated Olson. “We love the challenge of taking a lifeless space and turning it into something that looks great and is productive.”